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Published: Friday, 5/16/2014

H. Lee Whitacre; 1923-2014: Trucking firm founder was in WWII, farmed

BY MARK ZABORNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
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H. Lee Whitacre, a longtime farmer who founded a trucking company heralded for its growth in the 1990s, died May 5 in Heritage Corner Health Care Campus, Bowling Green. He was 90.

He had pneumonia, his wife, Margaret Ann Whitacre, said.

Mr. Whitacre grew corn, wheat, and soybeans on the farm where he grew up in Wood County’s Milton Township. The trucking company initially was an offshoot.

“He was born and bred a farmer,” said his wife, who was an office manager for Whitacre Trucking Inc. in Portage, Ohio. “He retired from farming at 77, but he retired from the trucking company at 82. He enjoyed the people. We had so many. I worked there right along with him, and our sons. He didn’t have a hobby, and he built it from scratch, and it went from nothing to a large company.”

By 1993 when his son Gary was president, the trucking firm employed about 100 full-time, reported annual sales of $6.4 million, and was on Inc. magazine’s list of the 500 fastest growing companies.

Mr. Whitacre was a founder of the intermodal firm, Roadlink USA, which later was sold. Whitacre Logistics, a company begun several years ago by son Gary — who had been president of Whitacre Trucking and a Roadlink executive — made the Inc. fastest-growing list in 2013.

Mr. Whitacre “was immensely proud,” his wife said. “He was a very humble man, and he didn’t want much credit for anything, but he was proud of his sons and what they accomplished.”

He was born Oct. 18, 1923, to Myrtle and Harry Whitacre in Weston, Ohio. He was a 1941 graduate of the former Milton Township High School. He enlisted in the Army during World War II and was a truck driver attached to the 82nd Airborne Division.

“That’s where it all started,” his wife said. He landed in France weeks after the D-Day invasion and delivered gasoline and other supplies to troops.

He resumed farming after the war and several years later bought a truck to haul grain. Eventually, he and his son Dan farmed together, the family bought more trucks, and started hauling freight. Under the oversight of son Gary, the firm in the late 1980s expanded into the burgeoning intermodal field — transporting goods that were shipped by rail, for instance, to a final destination. Sons Dan and Steve also were involved. “It was quite a family affair,” his wife said.

The couple took several trips to Europe and Hawaii.

Surviving are his wife, Margaret Ann Whitacre, whom he married July 23, 1949; sons, Edward, Daniel, Steven, Gary, and Kenneth; 10 grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.

A celebration of life is set for 3-7 p.m. Saturday in Nazareth Hall near Grand Rapids. Arrangements are by the Rodenberger Funeral Home, Deshler, Ohio.

The family suggests tributes to St. Louis School in Custar, Ohio, or Cherry Street Mission in Toledo.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.



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